No. 338 NAI DFA 27/158

Memorandum by the Department of External Affairs
for Joseph P. Walshe (Dublin)

Dublin, 21 May 1936

Italo-Ethiopian Dispute - Raising of Sanctions

1. Assuming an affirmative answer to the question: should we raise the sanctions now imposed on Italy? There would seem to be two alternative courses open to us.

2. The first course would involve our taking a definite line, even at this early stage, in the matter of the proposed, or mooted reformation of the League. That is to say, we would have to pledge ourselves to a policy of amending the Covenant by the elimination or modification of certain of its Articles (especially Article 16) so as to severely limit the League's competency in future cases of aggression. No doubt, a number of excellent arguments could be advanced in favour of such a policy, should we decide to adopt it, and, having so decided, it would not be too difficult to advocate anticipating a forthcoming reform of the Covenant by raising the existing sanctions on Italy. A reform of the Covenant by the suppression of Article 16 would probably meet with a good deal of support from a number of League members.

3. The second course open to us, in order to justify the raising of the present sanctions, would not affect our ultimate policy with regard to any amendment of the League Covenant. For that reason alone, it would seem to be the better line to adopt. It is rather soon to declare ourselves on the question of League reformation at this stage, without any clear idea as to what steps other League Members will recommend. Unless we are in favour of the plan of deleting Article 16 on its merits, it would be scarcely reasonable to allow our definite attitude on a matter of such importance to be entirely influenced by our desire to hasten by a few months the almost inevitable re-establishment of good relations with Italy.

4. If we are to bare ourselves on the second alternative, either leaving our attitude towards the Covenant open, or declaring once for all that we do not favour any weakening of its 'sanctions Articles', we might state a case for the lifting of the ban on Italy as follows:-

The Government of Saorstát Éireann agreed to impose sanctions on Italy solely by reason of 'their sense of the obligations binding this State as a Member of the League of Nations'.

Never, at any time, was there the idea that economic and financial sanctions, even completely devised and executed, were likely to act as an effective deterrent on any Great Power determined to achieve its warlike ambitions. Still less were sanctions regarded by the Government of Saorstát Éireann as being a merely punitive measure against the Italian Government and people. In so far as this country adopted sanctions, it did so objectively and without any particular faith in their practical efficacy, in order to fulfil its League obligations to the letter. The Saorstát Éireannview, as expressed by the President at the 16th Assembly, was that the League of Nations should have been conceived as an instrument for peace and so availed of wherever a case of conflict seemed likely to arise. This view is still held. The function of the League should still be one of preserving peace, at least among its own Members. Until recently, it did not appear that the sanctions' policy ran counter to the League's function of preserving peace, because there was actually a state of war in Ethiopia which the sanctions (notwithstanding anything alleged by interested propagandists) did nothing to aggravate, and, possibly, helped to alleviate or render less unequal. But there is no longer a state of war in Ethiopia: the Negus has virtually abdicated, his generals are known to be submitting to the de facto Italian rulers, and the ordinary Abyssinian soldiery have ceased to be warriors and are said to be returning to their homes or farms. Consequently, the one outstandingly 'unpeaceful' circumstance connected with the Italo-Ethiopian dispute that is now in evidence (and even in relief, because it is now unique) is that of the ?sanctions' which continue to subsist.

The task of the League must be to consolidate the few elements of a peaceful settlement which seem to mark the dispute, rather than to prolong the one predominatingly discordant note of 'sanctions'. Continued sanctions cannot assist the people of Abyssinia in any positive way, and, by rendering Italy's co-operation in the League more difficult, must eventually react to the detriment of the Ethiopians.

Furthermore, the very nature of the sanctions now in force being such as to tend to ruin a number of those States loyally applying Article 16 of the Covenant, the longer sanctions are allowed to continue, the weaker will become certain States, near neighbours of Italy, on whom so much will depend if pressure has to be brought by the League to bear on Italy at any future date.

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